Talladega always offers wild racing

The NASCAR racing this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway marks our return to restrictor-plate racing for the first time since the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in February.

Now, this race is a lot different than what we had in Daytona. The reasons are many.

First, the most obvious difference is that we are in Talladega for only three days versus two weeks at Daytona. The teams get only two practice sessions this Friday. They then have qualifying on Saturday and the cars are impounded, which means the teams don’t touch them again until Sunday for the race.

So, basically, whatever setup you use for qualifying on Saturday is what you are starting the race with on Sunday.

Like every week leading into a race, the fans ask me, “Who do you like this weekend.” Even before we get to the track, I can tell you pretty much who to watch. We know who is really strong at which tracks.

I think we all know, however, when we go to Daytona and Talladega that all bets are off. It’s anybody’s race, no matter how big or small your organization is. We do know who to watch for on qualifying day. Danica Patrick is the first one to come to mind who I believe will contend for the pole position. It’s when they drop the green flag on Sunday when it becomes anyone’s race.

Just go back to February and look at the drivers who finished in the top 10 at the Daytona 500. Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley both had top-10 finishes. These are drivers we don’t normally see running and finishing in the front every week.

That’s the beauty of restrictor-plate racing. It levels the playing field and makes the unknown factor much greater.

I also think, despite how exciting the Daytona 500 was, we’ll see an even better race this weekend at Talladega, mainly because the drivers have a race under their belts with the restrictor-plate package that goes with this Generation-6 car.

Even though they are both restrictor-plate tracks, everyone knows that racing at Talladega is a lot different than at Daytona. Talladega is much bigger and wider. There are a lot more sweeping corners at Talladega than what you find at Daytona. So I anticipate we’ll see a little different race than we saw at Daytona, but one with probably even more excitement and drama.

It could be one of those type of races where we don’t even know who is going to win it until the cars enter the tri-oval with the checkered flag waving. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen that and, trust me, even if it happens that way Sunday, it won’t be the last.

Going into this weekend’s event finds us with nine races in the books. Other than a road course, which we won’t see the first one of until late June in Sonoma, this Gen-6 car has now seen all the different track configurations.

There have been eight qualifying sessions of the nine races. Las Vegas was rained out. Of those eight others, we have had five new track records set. Now that we are a fourth of the way through the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, I think it is more than fair to say this new car has surpassed everyone’s initial expectations.

Denny Hamlin’s injury is a storyline that we are continuing to follow, as well. He unfortunately wasn’t able to return to the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing car last weekend at Richmond as he had hoped. If you saw our NASCAR on FOX Prerace Show on Saturday night, Hamlin told Darrell Waltrip that if he isn’t able to return to full-time racing by the Darlington race, which is next weekend, that he very well might simply write off the 2013 season.

Hamlin said if that happened, he would go ahead and have surgery to repair the damage. He then, obviously, would focus on rehabilitation to get himself back to 100 percent and be ready for the 2014 campaign. So that would be a major setback for the No. 11 team, but the big picture dictates doing whatever it takes in the short-term to get him back to full health.